I’ve witnessed a couple great examples of people truly living out love and forgiveness recently in my life — especially through some people very close to me. Their stories inspire me to believe that while St. Peter’s Brewery may be a fictional story — the ideas contained within it can truly be lived out day by day. Here’s a couple excerpts from Chapter 8 of St. Peter’s Brewery that deal with these ideas:
Eddie ordered his food and then Jimmy simply pointed to the Buffalo Burger on the menu, only nodding yes or no to Pete’s questions. After they finished their orders, Pete headed back to the kitchen to turn their orders in with his evening cook. He returned a couple minutes later with their drinks.
“Not used to seeing you guys here for dinner,” Pete said. “Got plans later tonight?”
Jimmy remained silent.
“Nope, just a rough day today, thought we could use a change of pace,” Eddie said.
Pete could see that Jimmy was dealing with something heavy.
“Well if yall want to chat, I’m here all night,” Pete said as he took a few steps back from the table.
“Pete let me ask you something,” Jimmy spoke up.
“The other night Kim talked about forgiving her dad,” Jimmy said.
“Yeah, I remember.”
“And she was talking about how it’s the right thing to do,” Jimmy added.
Pete nodded in agreement.
“But how the hell do you forgive someone who’s stabbed you in the back so many times?” Jimmy asked. Both Pete and Eddie could see his emotions rising. “How the hell can someone expect that out of you? Isn’t it my right to hold back my forgiveness as long as I can? Isn’t it my right to let them live and die with the knowledge that they hurt me bad enough that I can’t and won’t forgive them?”
Pete sat and waited. He knew his answer wouldn’t be the one Jimmy was looking for.
“Well?” Jimmy wanted a solid answer. And more importantly, he wanted Pete and Eddie to back his way of seeing things.
“Jimmy,” Pete started carefully. “I only know bits and pieces of your story but I do know that from my own personal experience, no pain is worth holding on to. Every bit of anger and bitterness I’ve held towards a person has only made my life hell. On top of that, half-the-time the oneswho had upset me, had no clue they’d even done anything to me.”
Jimmy sat. He thought on Pete’s words and wondered if he was right.
Pete waited for Jimmy to respond. He learned early in his marriage that winning an argument by simply firing back the best made arguments in a lightning round contest rarely changed anyone’s heart. It usually made the divide twice as wide. So instead, he waited for Jimmy to acknowledge that he was ready to continue.
“But Pete, what if the person knows they’ve done you wrong?” Jimmy asked.
Pete took his time to respond.
“Good question Jimmy,” he responded. “I know you’re not much of a religious fan, or even a fan of any particular faith, so I won’t bore you with the particulars. But nearly every major religion in the world, at its core value, is about loving others. And that takes forgiveness. And if you ask me — this is my personal opinion of course — if we really knew everyone’s story, there’s nothing we wouldn’t forgive.”
He stopped and moved over to the nearby wall. He pulled a picture off the wall that Jimmy quickly recognized as the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. The picture showed the mass of people gathered in the Washington D.C. Mall with the Washington Monument hovering over them.
“So what?” Jimmy asked as Pete walked back to table.
“Let me read you this quote,” Pete said as he turned the picture frame over.
“We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
Pete stopped and sat the picture frame down on the table.
“That was the voice of a movement Jimmy,” Pete added. “That was the voice of a man who was tired of seeing his friends and family members beaten down in the streets simply because their skin tone was darker than another’s. It was the voice of a man who grew up in an era where you could be lynched and hung in the middle of a town square and no one would stop them. That was the voice of a man who saw the injustice and suffering and pain of a group of people — a group of people that he belonged to. It was the voice of a man who himself was beaten down on the street in broad daylight for encouraging people to rise up against their oppressors.”
Pete stopped again, letting the ideas sink in.
“Jimmy don’t you think he had every right to be angry?” Pete asked. “Don’t you think he had every right to join the hate groups and return violence with violence?”
Jimmy quickly responded with a “Well of course!”
Pete picked up the picture frame again and handed it to Jimmy. Jimmy turned the frame over and re-read the quote. Below the quote was an additional note, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from ‘A Christmas Sermon on Peace’ – December 1967.”
“He had every right to complain Jimmy,” Pete said as he stood. “But…”
He then pointed to the other end of the old sanctuary where the last bit of daylight shone through the stained glass window. A large cross filled most of the window and right above the window, a neon sign flickered.
As Jimmy looked up at the window and sign, Pete read the words glowing in red.
“Love wins.” Pete said proudly. “Love wins. It always wins. It’s the only thing that will ever win. We may think we have the right to do whatever we please, but in the end love wins.”
After a few hours at the brewery, they both figured it was time to head home. They were finishing the last of their drinks as G.T. walked in.
“Hey fellows,” G.T.’s voice boomed. “Mind if I join ya?”
“Well we were about to head out, but I spose we can stay a bit longer,” Eddie said. He looked at Jimmy who nodded and gave a thumbs-up in agreement.
As they chatted, Jimmy decided to pose his dilemma to G.T. as well. He briefly explained the situation to G.T. and then asked for his advice.
“Well that’s gotta be the most generic explanation I’ve ever heard,” G.T. chuckled. “So basically you’re asking if we should forgive people — even those who know they’ve hurt us and haven’t already offered an apology?”
“Sure,” Jimmy said. “That’s a good summarization.”
“Ya know, I’ve always struggled with forgiveness, especially towards folks who claim to be a good friend and then turn around and make a mockery of our relationship,” G.T. said. “I guess the real question is do you want my opinion or the opinion of someone with a little more pull?”
Jimmy looked a bit confused.
“Yeah, not sure what you’re asking.”
“Well from my standpoint, I would always, personally, err on the side of revenge,” G.T. answered. “But that’s just me. That’s me being me. Quite honestly I’m a fighter and I tend to fight for whatever I think I deserve.” Jimmy liked where G.T. was going. “But because I know I’m a violent son of a gun by nature, I know I need to look to someone or something outside of myself…”
“Ah, great. I guess you’re talking about God now.” Jimmy grumbled.
“Yeah,” G.T. said. “If that’s alright.”
“Go ahead, we might as well get the extra opinion,” Jimmy responded, somewhat grudgingly.
“Well, I’m not an expert on God by any means,” G.T. admitted. “But I’m of the impression that if we want to know what God wants, we should look to God in the flesh — Jesus, the Christ.”
“When I read John’s letter about Jesus, I see that God became flesh, through Jesus, and moved into the neighborhood,” G.T. said. “And we see lots of instances where people tried to trick him and trap him because they were upset with his message — a message he was calling all people to live out. A message that they considered to be quite radical and different than anything the religious or governmental leaders were offering in those days.”
“Matthew, the tax collector, wrote in his story about Jesus, that one day Jesus was hanging out talking to his disciples and he begins to explain what to do if your brother sins against you, — or basically hurts you,” G.T. continued. “Jesus told his disciples that if a brother sins against you, then you should go to him and show him his fault. If he doesn’t listen, you should bring along a friend or two and the small group of friends should point out the fault. But then if that doesn’t work, you should bring your brother before your community and show him his fault. Jesus adds that if he changes his way, then you’ve won over a brother. If not then he says, ‘treat him like you would a heathen or a publican.’”
“I’m not sure what a publican is, but it sounds like they get three chances and then we can kick them to the curb?” Jimmy asked, certain that G.T. had just shown him a loophole in this whole forgiveness idea.
“Well not quite,” G.T. said, smiling as well. “I used to think that exact same thing — that Jesus gave us a way out. As long as we follow these three steps, we don’t have to take this forgiveness thing to the extreme. It always made sense with the Christianity I was familiar with. If someone doesn’t live up to my standards, God’s standards, or the communities standards — we just kick them out. Easy as pie.”
Both Eddie and Jimmy looked a bit confused now.
“So that’s what you used to think?” Eddie jumped in. “Didn’t you just tell us that Jesus said we can kick them to the curb?”
“Not exactly,” G.T. replied. “At least that’s not how I see it now. See I was looking at this passage and like you guys wondering, ‘What the heck is a heathen and a publican?’ I had my theories but I wanted to be sure. So I started looking around at different translations and such and realized that several other folks had translated these titles differently — they translated them to mean a Gentile, or pagan, or someone who doesn’t believe in God and then a tax collector. Tax collector seems to be the most widely accepted translation of publican. So I began to wonder if that had any significance. And then it struck me, Matthew the guy writing this story was a former tax collector!”
G.T. stopped and the biggest grin spread across his face. It was easy to tell he was excited about sharing this story.
“And then it really hit me,” G.T. said. “How did Jesus treat Matthew — the former tax collector? He loved him! He even invited him to be one of his closest friends! Wow! And all this before Matthew even knew he needed to repent and get his life in order!”
G.T. hit the table for emphasis.
“So here’s Matthew, this former tax collector standing there, hearing all of this,” G.T. continued with enthusiasm. “And he had to be thinking, ‘Oh my gosh! Does anyone else hear what he’s saying? I’m a former tax collector! And Jesus treated me with respect and love. We’re supposed to do that to everyone who sins against us?’ I bet Matthew started freaking out a little bit. It’s no wonder that he included this story in his letter. It’s like he was reminding us, ‘If someone sins against you, bring it before them. Offer forgiveness and if that doesn’t work — start all over again. And love them even more!’”
Jimmy was thoroughly bothered by this proposition.
“Now hold up, G.T.” Jimmy said. “We’re supposed to keep loving folks even if they refuse to listen and offer an apology?”
G.T. shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s how I read it,” he replied. “It’s not how I want to read it. But it’s how I understand it.”
Eddie needed some more explanation as well.
“So then how many times are we supposed to forgive a person?” he asked.
“Great question!” G.T. replied. “Let’s look it up.”
G.T. pulled a worn pocket sized Bible out of his coat pocket. The pages were thoroughly lined with markings and notes. It was clear that G.T. had spent a lot of time reading various passages throughout the leather bound book.
G.T. flipped through the pages till he found the spot he was looking for.
“Now this is a little different translation than I grew up reading,” G.T. said. “I really wish it had been around when I was new in the faith. But let’s back up a bit and read the last portion of the story I was just telling
G.T. ran his finger along the lines of text and came to a stopping point. He began to read out loud.
“If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love,” G.T. read. “That’s the part I was telling you about — treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.”
He paused to see if Eddie and Jimmy understood.
“So Jesus is telling this story, and like I mentioned, Matthew is probably pretty stoked at this new idea Jesus was preaching — after all, he had experienced it first-hand!” G.T. said. “But then after they hear this story, one of the Jesus’ other friends asks Jesus the same thing you just asked Eddie.”
Eddie felt a little relief that he wasn’t the only one needing clarification.
G.T. moved his finger down the page and picked up his reading again.
“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.’”
G.T. closed his Bible and sat it on the table. He leaned back in his chair as Eddie and Jimmy soaked in what they had just heard.
It was obvious that Jimmy didn’t like what he’d just heard.
“Well that sounds good and dandy,” Jimmy replied. “Forgive the tax collector. Big whoop. A tax collector’s one thing but Jesus never had to forgive someone who really hurt him or turned his back on him.”
G.T. leaned in towards Jimmy. He replied in a low calming voice.
“Jimmy,” he began. “One of the greatest examples we have of what true love and true forgiveness is really all about — is from Jesus. When he had been whipped and flogged and nailed to a cross, he didn’t curse them or wave a fist at them. But some of his final words before dying were, ‘Father forgive them. They know not what they do.’”
“He asked God to forgive the sins of these Roman soldiers who physically abused him, who had mocked him and hurled insults his way,” G.T. continued. “If that’s not an example of real forgiveness, I don’t know what is.”
G.T. made a fist with his right hand and with his thumb he pointed towards the back wall.
“Love wins Jimmy. Love wins.”
G.T. then leaned back in his chair again and waited. They sat for a while as Jimmy sat, staring at the floor.